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C.3.3. - Ballad of Reading Gaol: The Cacophonietta [Cold Spring - 2018]

C.3.3. is a project of Paul Jamrozy, original member of TEST DEPT. This record, originally self-released in a slightly different form in 2011, takes as its subject the now closed HM Prison Reading, formally Reading Gaol, which held Oscar Wilde in the late 1890s after his conviction for homosexual offences. Unsurprising for a member of TEST DEPT, politics is mingled here with historical reflection. Wilde's incarceration, and his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol is the entry point for Jamrozy into an exploration of incarceration, capital punishment and state power.

After a prologue in which several stanzas of Wilde's poem - those dealing with the execution of a man convicted of killing his wife - are recited, we enter the body of the record which is divided into four movements. The first Blood and Wine is an dark atmospheric evocation, perhaps reflecting the grave scene on the morning of an execution at the gaol. Distant clangs like slamming cell doors are heard behind foreboding drones and electronics that circle overhead like the rotation of a search light upon a watch tower. The pall remains firmly in place with Iron Town which reverberates with the sounds of classic TEST DEPT type percussion and half heard vocals. Its slow vaguely martial beat is a firm reminder of the regimented state control environment of the prison system.

'Grassy' Noel Macken returns to read a few more stanza's of Wilde's poem on Gallows Tree,a droning tour de force of Lustmord size proportions. Simple in execution (pardon the pun) the repeated droning motif hangs in the air with the tension of a gathering storm, strongly conveying the fear and awful ceremony of an execution by hanging. Near the end, processed screams filter through as if coming up from hell. Things shift drastically on the last part of the album's core The Devil's Own Brigade. After sampled percussion and slow burning ominous drones the track takes a sharp turn into a kind of industrial drum and bass replete with chaotic vocal samples and thundering rhythms. It's not clear where this fits in with Jamrozy's auditory evocation of the gaol but it works well to break up some of the doomy atmosphere and shift the pace of the record.

After an instrumental ambient reprise the record ends with two more recent mixes taking elements of the preceding tracks and reworking them along similarly morose industrial lines. Acousticon (Segregation mix) is a deep space drone journey with a lot of additional textual variations and skittering electronics. Again the most obvious comparison would be with Lustmord or perhaps Lussuria's burnt dreamscapes. At close to ten minutes in length it nicely develops some of the albums stronger themes taking them in a more abstract and disconcerting direction. Finally Panoptix (Vermin Mix) is an achingly slow mechanised version of Blood and Wine where distorted percussion vies for attention with undulating electronics and dungeon atmospherics.

In some ways this is a somewhat lightweight concept album almost half of which could well be described as filler. Nevertheless there is an undoubtedly moving and disquieting effect created by the album's core tracks and in particular those featuring Noel Macken's recital of Wild's poem. Where the dungeon atmosphere and poetic intent combine there is the makings of a work of considerable power. However, it could perhaps do with some more distilling and development to be declared a complete success.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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